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It’s difficult, and it’s not their fault

Problems related to communication and dementia

Research shows that communication is a problem for people with dementia, and that this affects the care they receive.

Impairments in word finding, language skills and non-verbal communication in people with dementia increase the obstacles for providing effective care (Wang et al, 2013).

When people with dementia demonstrate poor communication this is often associated with relationship conflicts, negative emotions for both carers and the patient, feeling of neglect and increased problem behaviours, all of which decrease the quality of life (Mayhew et al, 2001).

Whether resisting care or exhibiting apathy, a person with dementia is attempting communication; caregivers must learn to ‘hear’ this language (Smith & Buckwalter, 2005).

The problems people with dementia have depend on how impaired their ability to communicate is. In the early stages of dementia the person may have few problems but in the later stages they may struggle to communicate. It’s important when communicating with someone who has dementia to understand that they are not being awkward or deliberately difficult. Using a person centred approach, it’s important to adapt your communication style to the needs of the person.

Communication needs to be understood in terms of both non-verbal and verbal communication. Non-verbal communication is the signals we send and receive wordlessly, and includes posture, gestures, stance, facial expressions, eye contact, distance, physical appearance, touch and tone of voice. When investigate de-escalation skills later this week we will revisit these non-verbal cues.

Although we recognise that people with dementia may appear to have a limited range of emotions, this is not necessarily the case. It may well be that the person still experiences the full range of emotions, but has difficulty expressing them. For this reason non-verbal communication can be particularly important in both understanding the person with dementia and in how you communicate with them. In order to understand the person’s non-verbal communication, you need to use your observational skills.

People with dementia need warmth and acceptance, and non-verbal communication becomes very important.

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This article is from the free online course:

Dementia: Understanding and Managing Challenging Behaviour

University of Birmingham